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Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Blind Ambition
A guide dog goes the distance for her human hiking partner.
A selfie taken while hiking Vermont’s Long Trail, the oldest long-distance trail in the U.S.

For most dogs, a hike in the mountains is an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon. But for Tennille, a five-year-old black Labrador from North Carolina, it’s just another day at the office. While other dogs sniff the underbrush and splash through creeks, Tennille is hard at work keeping her owner on the trail, alerting him to obstacles and watching for dangerous wildlife.

If it sounds like Tennille’s hikes are no ordinary walks in the park, it’s because she’s a guide dog and her owner is a professional long-distance hiker who also happens to be blind.

Tennille’s story begins not on a trail in the mountains, but in the California home of Tasha Laubly, a volunteer puppy raiser. Laubly socialized Tennille, taught her basic manners and then, like many a proud parent before her, selflessly sent her baby off to school. That “school” was Guide Dogs for the Blind, and it was there that Tennille would meet Trevor Thomas and the course of her life would change forever.

In 2005, Thomas, a recent law school graduate and self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie, received the devastating news that a rare and incurable autoimmune condition was taking his sight. Eight months after that diagnosis, his vision had diminished to nothing.

To reclaim his independence, Thomas began long-distance hiking. Just 18 months after losing his vision, he became the first blind person to complete a solo thru-hike of the 2,190-mile-long Appalachian Trail, which runs from Georgia to Maine. And that was just the beginning.

Thomas began hiking trails all over the country and found that, while he could navigate the well-traveled Appalachian Trail by himself, if he wanted to take on more remote areas, having a partner was vital. When Thomas’s human hiking partner pulled out of a big hike at the last minute, he decided it was time to get a guide dog.

The search for the right dog and an organization that would work with him was arduous. While dogs have long been used to help the visually impaired regain their independence, training one for the trail was unheard of. When Thomas explained that he wanted a dog he could take on long, solo expeditions in the backcountry, most guide-dog schools balked. They were concerned that a guide dog would not be able to handle the sport’s mental and physical demands.

Then, he put in a call to Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, Calif., and found an organization that was willing to give him and his crazy idea a chance. When the trainers introduced Thomas to high-energy and exceptionally smart Tennille, the bond was instant, which was a good thing. Tennille was the only dog they had who might be able to meet the mental and physical demands of long-distance hiking.

Training a guide dog for backcountry work was unprecedented. There were questions about how she would physically handle the rigors of the trail, whether she could adapt to the unique demands of backcountry work and how she would transition between days on the trail and life in town. When it came to taking a guide dog into the backcountry, it seemed like there were more questions than answers. But Thomas, Tennille and her trainers were willing to give it a shot.

To be Thomas’s eyes on the trail, Tennille not only needed to master all of the skills required of guide dogs in the city but also, had to learn about life in the wild. She was trained to watch for low-hanging branches (she knows how tall Thomas is) and alert him to tripping hazards. If she decides that a situation is too dangerous, she will refuse to move forward. The Lab has also been trained to handle encounters with everything from rattlesnakes to moose, and knows how to look for trail signs and other landmarks.

“I’m the luckiest person around,” Thomas muses when talking about Tennille. “In a world of extraordinary animals, she is exceptional. She is a genius.”

In the three years since they became a team, Thomas and Tennille have covered more than 6,000 miles together, tackling trails all over the United States. With Tennille’s help, Thomas has completed solo hikes on remote, unpopulated trails that were out of his reach before she came along. Having a guide dog has been a game-changer for Thomas, who says that many hikers he meets on the trail don’t realize that he’s blind.

A day on the trail for Thomas and Tennille typically involves covering 13 to 18 miles of rocky and uneven ground. The distance alone is a lot for any dog, but Tennille is also working. She knows that once her backpack (which takes the place of a traditional guide-dog harness) goes on, it’s time to do her job.

As you may expect, this is no spur-of-the-moment operation. Long before Thomas and Tennille set foot on the trail, their hikes have been planned down to the last detail. In the months leading up to a hike, a set of detailed daily instructions is painstakingly created. Thomas uses these notes to tell him things like how far it is between trail junctions and which direction he is supposed to go.

Then, he employs a combination of bat-like echolocation and meticulous tracking of time, speed and cadence to get close to where he needs to be. Tennille takes it from there. She knows how to look for signs and other trail markers that will keep them headed in the right direction.

Thomas is quick to say that, while he holds the leash, Tennille is the boss. In the time they have been hiking together, Tennille has learned what is important, and when she alerts him to danger, he listens. It’s this unwavering trust in one another that has allowed them to take on some of the longest and hardest trails in the country.

In the summer of 2015, Thomas and Tennille conquered one of their toughest challenges yet when they completed a thru-hike of the 600-mile-long Colorado Trail. Traversing some of the tallest mountains in the United States, the two successfully navigated the rugged route that runs between Denver and Durango, summiting 14,440-foot Mt. Elbert along the way. While Tennille excels in the cool Rocky Mountain climate, there was some concern about how she would handle Colorado’s high altitude. But, as with everything else in her life, she was unfazed.

“Ice water runs through her veins,” Thomas replies when asked how his companion is able to handle the demands of long days and tough conditions. He has yet to find a situation that she can’t manage.

As the years and miles have gone by, Tennille’s body has become accustomed to the demands of her job. While many dogs’ pads become sore during long hikes in the backcountry, Tennille’s are as tough as leather. Thomas always carries booties for her, but unless the ground is very hot, she rarely needs them.

Thomas says that getting Tennille was the best decision he’s made since losing his vision. Not only has she greatly expanded the possibilities of what he can do, but also, she has changed how others see him. She’s a powerful icebreaker when it comes to interacting with people both on and off the trail. Thomas believes that Tennille’s friendly face and wagging tail have allowed him to form deeper connections with those he meets who may not know how to engage with a blind person. These connections have been an unexpected benefit of having Tennille along.

When asked what’s up next for the duo, Thomas rattles off a long list of goals. He is constantly on the hunt for new places and different environments in which to challenge himself and Tennille. In the coming years, he hopes to return to the Appalachian Trail, this time with Tennille by his side, and dreams of doing the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim hike. The canyon’s high-desert environment would present a different kind of challenge from the mountains they are used to, but Thomas feels that Tennille will be up to the job.

Thomas’s courage and tenacity are making him somewhat of a celebrity in the hiking world, but he’s quick to point out that it is his dog who should be getting the attention. “I just hold the leash,” he says. “I’d be happy to be known as the guy who’s with Tennille.”

News: Editors
Off-Leash Recreation is Being Threatened
Lola at Crissy Field, GGNRA

The Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) is proposing a roughly 90 percent reduction in its off-leash space. And we have only until May 25 to comment on this draconian proposal.

The GGNRA oversees more than 80,000 acres of the Northern California coastline, and of this, dogs have only been allowed on approximately 1 percent. Their proposed new Dog Management Plan will reduce that smidgen by 90 percent, which is a significant hit.

Although a unit of the Dept. of the Interior’s National Park Service, GGNRA is in a decidedly different category than the more traditional parks such as Yellowstone or Yosemite. From its inception in 1972, it has been charged with balancing habitat protection with recreational activities that predated its creation: “To provide for the maintenance of needed recreational open space.” Foremost among those activities was (and is) off-leash dog-walking. One of the groundbreaking 1970s “parks for the people,” GGNRA serves a densely populated metropolitan area and is an invaluable resource for locals and visitors alike, providing access to outdoor recreation for millions of people each year.

For many of us, especially women and seniors, off-leash recreation with our dogs is our only form of exercise. We don’t kayak, bike, run or cross-train. What we do—from time immemorial, it seems—is simply walk with our unfettered dogs, enjoying the regenerative benefits of spending time outside. We also acknowledge that a balance needs to be met with respect to other park users and the natural resources that we all value.

But we believe that an acceptable balance was not adequately taken into consideration during GGNRA’s rule-making deliberations. Rather, opinions and desires expressed by special-interest groups such as the Sierra Club and Audubon Society and prominent donors held greater sway than those of local elected officials and the many thousands of off-leash advocates (and other park users) they represent. And because this is thought to be a precedent setting judgment, it can (and will) be used against off-leash activity is other areas throughout the country.

During two recent public meetings held by the GGNRA and chaired by park superintendent, Christine Lernertz, in response to questions about how they regard the opposition from the vast majority of residents, local elected officials and humane organizations, Lernertz brushed those questions off and referred to GGNRA's “national” status, meaning they are a park for the whole nation. (She did though reference their concern about tourists from other countries, and what would they feel about seeing dogs on beaches.) So if indeed the GGNRA is a national resource for all of us, they need to hear from all of us from both inside and outside the area.

Your comments are needed now and due before May 25:

What do I say in my comment?

·    See talking points and sample comments here, or here or see the one below.

·    Consider making the point, in your own words. If you are outside the Bay Area, tell them where you are located and how important the issue of off leash recreation is to you, especially in public land owned by the federal government. Your voice matters too.

How do I submit my comment?

  • Go to https://www.regulations.gov, type 1024-AE16 in the search box, and press Enter.
  • Click the Comment Now! box on the results page.
  • Click the Commenter's Checklist link to view a PDF with commenting guidelines and tips.
  • Enter your comment and other required information in the form provided.
  • General Sample Comment Letter

    “I am writing to voice my opposition to the highly restrictive proposed rule for dog management at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA). It was established by Congress as a national recreation are—not a national park. Banning dog walking recreation from nearly all of the GGNRA is a violation of public trust and the unit’s enabling legislation.

    These significant restrictions to dog walking are being proposed without any evidence that dog walking is causing actual impacts to GGNRA’s natural resources or visitor experience.

    I am especially opposed to the provision that would give GGNRA’s superintendent a blank check to ban dogs without any sort of public input process and before any impacts from dogs occur.

    I strongly urge the National Park Service to rethink its proposed rule for dog walking at GGNRA. Please take into account the input and concerns of the thousands of people in this country that are opposing this plan.”

    Also see:

    http://www.saveourrecreation.com/resources/

    http://www.saveoffleash.com/

    https://youtu.be/ZUe1fdoo_Ek

     

     

     

    News: Editors
    Dogs Take Over the Pilot Seat

    Mark Vette, an animal behaviorist from New Zealand, who made a splash a few years back by training dogs to drive cars, has taken his skills to a new height and has now successfully trained dogs to not just co-pilot, but to actually pilot planes. As with his driving “dare” he has taken on this newest challenge to promote the talents and adoptability of shelter dogs, certainly a noble cause. You have to watch this video to see how successful, he and his team of trainers, were. From what this well-edited clip shows, the dogs too seem to like getting behind the throttle and definitely soared to new heights.

    The dogs went through a four-month training period, and as the final episode of Dogs Might Fly, that aired in UK on Sky-1 television, you can see just how well they performed and maneuvered the plane to even make perfect figure eights up in the air.

    The three dogs were first trained on flight simulators and harnesses kept them sitting upright so they could “paw” unto the plane controls. Vette said that he was very careful that the three would-be pilot dogs were happy with what they were doing and that their welfare was his highest priority. The dogs were trained to respond to color lights. As Vette commented that, “Most importantly, this exercise has proven that shelter dogs are not secondhand goods.” He added that “They are smart and deserve a chance at life.” 

    He himself adopted one of the pilot dogs as the show ended (the one shown here at the controls), and I can’t imagine that the other two weren't also snatched up. Diane D., a reader drew this to our attention today, and thankful that she did.

     

    News: Editors
    Shelter Dogs take Center Court at Brazil Open

    We just read a wonderful story about another inventive and humane way to save shelter dogs and to showcase their many charms and talents. This story is from the Brazil Open tennis tournament being held in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Shelter dogs Frida, Costela, Mel and Isabelle, all sporting orange bandannas, wowed the onlookers by their ball “handling” abilities. In their previous life these four ball-dogs were street dogs in Brazil largest city. But now, as trained by Andrea Beckert, from the Association of Animal Wellbeing, they are retrieving the out-of-bounds tennis balls, and bringing them back, joyfully, to their trainer and, at times, to the players.

    As Beckert noted—she trained them for months before this appearance—they were hoping to make the animals more confident and playful to “win” attention and hopefully new homes. “These are dogs that were mistreated. We have to make them adapt, feel the environment, the court, the noise of the balls and the noise of the people. Some are doing well, others are still a little scared,” she related. The basic commands that the dogs learned were ‘pick the ball,’ ‘let it go,’ ‘stay’ and ‘come.’”

    All four still live in the shelter, said Marli Scaramella, the organizer of the ball-dog program, “The idea is to show people that a well-fed and well-treated animal can be very happy. We have more than 1,000 dogs in our care,” she said. Let’s hope this worked and will inspire other sporting events in other countries.

     

    Good Dog: Activities & Sports
    Entertainment Options For The Home-Alone Dog
    Boredom Be Gone!

    If you feel guilty about leaving your dogs home by themselves while you go to work, join the club. Most of us dislike it, though, truth be told, the majority of dogs do just fine. Many of them simply relax and sleep for a good part of the day while we stress out at work.

    I say “many of them” because I’m absolutely not including dogs who are too young to handle a lot of time alone, or those who are struggling with separation anxiety or some other condition that makes being at home without you truly traumatic, somewhat upsetting or even just unpleasant. I’m talking about typical, behaviorally healthy dogs who really don’t mind the daily rhythm that includes your regular workday absence (though obviously, they would rather you stayed home).

    Along with making sure that their basic needs are met, what do we owe the dogs who hold down the fort while we’re gone? Some dogs are fine with a cozy place to snooze, and some may be satisfied with a compatible dog buddy or some toys. Others need a little help in finding interesting ways to stay occupied while we go out and earn the money to support them in the style to which they have become accustomed. A great way to help these dogs is to provide them with multiple activity stations around the house.

    Activity stations are just what they sound like: places for dogs to engage in activities that can be done alone. Setting up different activity stations in distinct areas of the house allows dogs to make good choices and to have fun even when they’re on their own.

    This kind of enrichment won’t cure separation anxiety or help a dog overcome a fear of traffic, airplanes, passersby or the sound of sirens, and it’s not a cure for excessive barking or destructive chewing. What it can do, however, is make being alone more fun.

    Deciding what sorts of activity stations will work best for your dog requires you to give some thought to your home’s layout and your dog’s interests and abilities. But basically, they are really only limited by safety concerns and your creativity.

    Some stations are extremely simple, involving nothing more than a tug toy attached to the wall with a carabiner and a sturdy hook. Dogs who love to tug often do best if the toy is a little stretchy to compensate for the fact that nobody is on the other end giving it life and motion. The toy must be safe—no chance of the dog choking on it, becoming entangled in it or shredding it. A tug station is not suitable for dogs who would either become obsessive about it or frustrated by it. To interest your dog in it, shake the toy a little to make it move; once your dog has hold of it, let him tug on his own. Putting peanut butter on the toy makes it more enticing and helps many dogs engage.

    A related activity station is for dogs who like to bat at toys rather than tug them. As long as the dog won’t become entangled in the toy or attempt to ingest it, this sort of station can occupy those who love to use their paws in play. Toys with multiple hanging parts often appeal to dogs who like to play this way.

    Another activity station with simplicity in its favor consists of providing your dog with something safe to chew or eat. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to buy hundreds of new items. Rotating your dog’s durable favorites, supplemented by an occasional new treat, keeps this from costing a fortune. You can also use stuffable toys such as Kongs, or toys that the dog has to chase around or otherwise manipulate for the food to be dispensed —for example, the PetMate Wobbling Treatball, Kong Wobbler, West Paw Design Toppl or Buster Cube.

    Make sure you are not giving your dog anything that poses a choking hazard or other dangers. Avoid rawhides and rope toys, and check with your vet about what else may be dangerous for an unsupervised dog. All dogs need to learn to enjoy an activity station is that it provides good things. For safety and convenience, site the station away from areas that are off limits to the dog, such as the counter or where kids store their toys.

    On a related note, you can also keep your dog occupied by making the whole house (or at least a room or two) a place for food-searching activity. Hide treats while your dog is in another room, say “find your treats” and then head out for the day. (If your dog is sure to follow you, tell him/her to stay, or close a gate or door while you hide the treats.) Teaching your dog to search for food in response to the cue “find your treats” is not hard, but it’s critical to start by making it easy and gradually working up to greater challenges. Start with the food in full view and point to it or tap your toe by each treat until your dog gets the hang of it. You can also hide treats in canine puzzle toys that are specifically designed for this purpose.

    A basket of toys is a great activity station, but for most dogs, it’s only appealing if the contents change frequently. To maintain your dog’s interest, rotate toys in and out and add new ones regularly. That way, your dog will never know which toys will be available on a given day. If your dog has a couple of favorites, make sure they’re always on hand. The purpose of rotating toys is to prevent your dog from becoming bored, not to take away toys just for the sake of removing them periodically.

    For dogs who like to fetch, independent play may seem harder to provide. However, some dogs can be taught to fetch on their own using a ball and a ramp or an iFetch. There needs to be enough space for them to chase after the ball without injury to themselves or to your furnishings. It takes practice and patience, but once dogs get it, they are able to play on their own.

    To teach dogs to use a ramp at a fetching station, start by placing the ball on the ramp and letting it roll away. This accustoms dogs to fetching a ball that has been “thrown” by the ramp. Then, teach them to drop the ball at the top of the ramp themselves. Once dogs realize that they can make the ramp work for them, many really enjoy the activity, though I’ve yet to meet a dog who didn’t prefer fetch played as a social game outdoors. (Caution: this activity station is not suitable for dogs who are so obsessive about fetch that they would play all day and drive themselves mad.)

    Again, the safety of the stations and their elements is critical. Don’t use anything that could in any way strangle or trap a dog. Only use toys that can handle serious chewing, the level of which varies from dog to dog. Avoid rawhide or rope toys that a dog can choke on. If in doubt, put the toy away before you leave.

    Don’t expect dogs to automatically be interested in activity stations just because you’ve set them up, however lovingly. The statement “If you build it, they will come” rarely applies. Dogs have to be taught what to do and to understand that the stations have entertainment value before they will engage on their own.

    Activity stations can be antidotes to the boredom dogs may experience when left home alone. Providing them with something constructive to do can improve their quality of life, even though they may be fine with being alone. The stations can also help us fulfill our responsibility to make sure our dogs are happy, stimulated and entertained (not to mention relieve our guilt!) when we leave the house without our dogs, as most of us must do daily. Above all, they’re a wonderful way to change our dogs’ daily alone time from “fine” to “fun”!

    Good Dog: Activities & Sports
    Barkie Birkie
    Dog Powered

    For two decades, Michelle Flanagan- Haag competed in the Elite Wave of the American Birkebeiner—aka the “Birkie,”—the largest, and one of the longest, cross-county ski races in North America, which draws 10,000- plus skiers to Cable and Hayward, Wisc., annually.

    Last year, under pressure from her husband, Mike Haag, who planned to compete in the Barkie Birkie 5K skijoring event with one of their dogs, Mr. Finn, she agreed to partner up with their other dog, Brewster, for the event. She thought she’d take it easy, but Brewster had other ideas.

    Whether he was inspired by the cheering crowd on Hayward’s main street or by thoughts of catching up with Mike and Mr. Finn, Brewster took Flanagan-Haag to second place for women in 2014.

    “I wasn’t competing at all, but Brewster sure was,” she laughed. “He was hell bent on getting to his brother. I was just waterskiing.”

    You never know quite what to expect with the Barkie Birkie. Dogs as small as Toy Poodles and Dachshunds all the way to big Leonbergers show up at the start line. Some run behind their owners, some sit down, some trot alongside, but they all seem thrilled to be there.

    “Spectators love that race,” says organizer Connie Mack. “It’s a fun way to get your dog out exercising.”

    Up to 100 teams can compete in the 3K (sport) or 5K (expert) races. Two teams go out at a time, 15 seconds apart, which, as Mack says, adds to the fun.

    The Barkie Birkie starts, appropriately enough, near Sophie’s Dog Bakery on Hayward’s Main Street on February 18, 2016.

    Good Dog: Behavior & Training
    Football Playoffs—All About the Dogs
    Governors’ wager on NFL football game is personal

    Football playoffs often involve trash talking and betting, but this year, there are dogs involved, so it’s obviously getting serious. In the NFC Championship game this Sunday, there’s a trip to the Super Bowl on the line for the Arizona Cardinals and the Carolina Panthers, but for the governors of Arizona and North Carolina, their dogs’ honor is at stake.

    Governor Doug Ducey of Arizona and Governor Pat McCrory of North Carolina have made a friendly wager. If Arizona wins, McCrory’s Lab mix Moe will have to wear a Cardinals’ jersey. If Carolina wins, then Ducey’s Golden Retriever Woody will be sporting a Panther’s jersey. Luckily, these handsome dogs will look great in anything, so they are unlikely to suffer no matter what happens.

    Either governor, on the other hand, would no doubt be distressed to see a beloved dog wearing the other team’s jersey. As close as we are to our dogs, it just feels wrong to have our dogs wearing enemy colors.

    Ducey has tweeted, “AZ Cardinals, we can’t let Woody wear a Panthers jersey! Let’s get this done” and McCrory has said, I am confident that our Carolina Panthers are going to be victorious on Sunday, so that our beloved rescue dog Moe doesn’t have to suffer wearing a Cardinals jersey.”

    I don’t care all that much about the game’s outcome. Yes, I live in Arizona, but I have family in North Carolina and I’m a Packers fan anyway. I’m just happy to see two governors expressing affection for their dogs.

    Good Dog: Behavior & Training
    Mastiff on Agility Course
    I want to stand up and applaud for him!

    An English Mastiff running an agility course is well-received by an enthusiastic crowd. So many dogs competing in agility are a blur of feet and fur, presenting a serious challenge to their human handlers to keep up. This dog is more mellow and a great deal slower than a lot of other dogs, but his efforts are appreciated. His body is not perfectly suited to the sport, but he does it anyway, and that’s what makes it so beautiful.

    It’s a bit like watching a weight lifter compete in figure skating or a shot putter attempting to run a marathon. It’s clearly not the perfect match between body type and event, but just participating is admirable. In this case, the English Mastiff is not breaking any speed records, but he completes the course.

    I love how the handler works to build the dog’s enthusiasm with patience and an upbeat energy. The dog continues at his pace, not looking overly exuberant, but showing no signs of reluctance either. My favorite part is the slow, methodical approach he takes with the weave poles. I imagine that for many handlers whose dogs tend to miss a pole or two, this surefire approach has its appeal.

    I love seeing a dog from a rarely-represented breed competing in agility. As long as a veterinarian approves a dog for the activity, I’m all for it. (I mention this because not all large, big-boned dogs can safely handle the jumping and other demands of agility.) A good quality of life is about participating and having fun, NOT about being the fastest or most skilled out there.

    I’ve seen tons of Border Collies and other herding dogs compete in agility, along with a variety of other breeds. I have fond memories of teaching a beginning agility class years ago with both a Newfoundland and an Italian Greyhound attending. It was fun for all the humans to see different breeds negotiate the obstacles and show clear preferences. The Newfie loved the table most of all, while the IG was a huge fan of the tunnel.

    Agility is for every breed, including mixed breed dogs, but it’s certainly the case that not all types of dogs excel in the same way at the sport. It’s a joy to watch any dog take part if they have a willingness to do so.

    Good Dog: Activities & Sports
    Indoor Athletics For Your Dog
    Trick training in small places

    Small space and active dog. This is reality for an increasing number of people who share their small city apartments with dogs. While there is no substitute for a long walk or run, there is a surprising amount you can do to keep your pup fit, both mentally and physically, in a confined space.

    Tricks are the key to happy urban dogs. Trick training might once have had a reputation as dog training’s less serious cousin, but no more! It has tremendous benefits: enhanced bonding, increased canine confidence and a contained way to exercise your dog’s brain absent a yard filled with agility equipment. Trick training is also a fantastic way to build human/ canine communication skills, which will improve all areas of life with your dog. Finally, many build muscle tone and strength.

    Tricks generally fall into two categories: physical movement (or manipulating or in some way interacting with a prop) and vocalization. Tricks can be fun and silly (spinning in circles and dancing) or practical (putting toys away in a basket). Essentially, anything your dog does—stretching, yawning, barking or other vocalizations—can be turned into a cued trick.

    Some physical behaviors (bowing, spinning, sitting up and so forth) can be trained very easily using what’s called a luring method, in which something of high value to your dog is used to guide the dog into the desired position. Over time, a cue word is added to the behavior; then, the cue comes first and the luring is slowly phased out. The result? A polished trick.

    To turn other behaviors such as sneezing, yawning or vocalizing into tricks, a technique called capturing works well. Capturing takes a little more time than luring, as you aren’t manipulating the dog into the behavior but rather, are waiting for the dog to exhibit the behavior and then offering an immediate reward. To be successful, you need to keep treats and/or clicker close at hand. (Clickers can be extremely effective when you’re starting to train tricks because they allow the precise marking of a desired behavior; they’re especially helpful when utilizing capturing and shaping techniques.)

    Shaping involves working in partnership with your dog; I like to think of it as putting together a puzzle, or “building” a trick. Shaping focuses on facilitating dogs’ use of their brains. With shaping, you are click/treating (or otherwise rewarding) at incremental steps along the way to the goal behavior. Shaping is useful when training a complicated or multi-part trick.

    For example: my dog knows how to “play basketball,” which in our case means dunking a ball into a little basketball hoop. In order to get to the finished trick, I broke it down into small pieces so the dog could understand what I wanted. Eventually, the different pieces of the trick came together. To shape the basketball trick, I first treated for interest in the ball, then for picking it up, then for holding it, then for moving toward the basket and, finally, for dropping it through the net.

    Although they take up a little more room, tricks involving props are fun and can add a new twist to your trick repertoire. Hoopla hula hoops or broomsticks can be used to make indoor jumps (be sure to keep the height low for safety). You can also repurpose children’s toys such as basketball hoops, stacking rings, skateboards or wagons for impressive and innovative tricks that show off your training skill and your dog’s brilliance. The biggest payoff, however, is the fun you’ll have together.

    Good Dog: Behavior & Training
    Professional Hockey Player and His Service Dog
    Max Domi relies on Orion every day

    “He’s made me a better person and a better hockey player.” That’s what rookie sensation Max Domi says about his two-year old diabetic-alert dog, Orion. Diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 12, Domi’s first question was, “Can I still play hockey?” The answer was yes but that doesn’t mean it was easy. It’s still a challenge, but Orion has made it easier and safer.

    Like many diabetic-alert dogs, Orion is a Labrador Retriever who has been trained at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars. Orion was trained by Canine Hope for Diabetics to do his job, which is to detect odor changes that indicate a low blood sugar level and alert Domi. When Domi is awake, Orion alerts him by pulling at the bringsel (which looks like a small foam roller) that Domi wears at his waist. That’s the cue to Domi that he should check his blood sugar, which he does 15-20 times most days, but around a dozen times before, during, and after each game in addition to the rest of that day’s tests. When he is asleep and his blood sugar drops, Orion wakes him up by barking and jumping on him. If that doesn’t rouse Domi, then the dog will use his paws to wake him up with some well-placed contact to the face. Low sugar levels in his blood can be especially likely after a late-night game, so Orion’s tenacity about waking him up is especially critical at those times.

    Domi had to go through a huge process to be considered for a service dog, and that included writing essays about why he was worthy of receiving such a dog, why he wanted one and what would do with him. He also had to meet several dogs so that the trainers could choose the dog they thought was the best match for Domi. For example, of the dogs under consideration, one was eliminated for not being as good in crowds, which is obviously not ideal for a professional athlete. I really enjoyed a recent video on ESPN that discusses what Orion does for Domi, and includes good footage of this adorable and hard-working dog.

    Orion travels with Domi to all their games so he must be able to handle the air travel, the huge crowds, hotels, the ice rinks and the generally complex and crazy life of a professional hockey player. One challenge for anyone with a service dog is preventing other people from petting him or otherwise distracting him while he is working. All the other players along with coaches and other staff of the Arizona Coyotes know that they cannot interact with Orion when he is working. When he is off duty, though, he is just as friendly and loving as you might expect, and everybody cherishes the time they get to spend with Orion when he is not working.

    Domi treasures all his time with Orion and is grateful for how much easier it makes it to concentrate on hockey. At only 20 years old, he’s arguably the best rookie in the NHL, so any fan of Domi or his team should appreciate that, too.

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